Switzerland, for the second year in a row, topped U.S. News & World Report’s rankings of the world’s best countries, marking its sixth time in the number one spot since 2017. Well known for its stunning mountains, lakes, and valleys—and for the cheese and chocolate from the cows that graze its verdant pasturelands—the Bernese Alps and the Jungfrau Region epitomize Switzerland. Here’s how to visit some of its highlights and experience why Switzerland’s quality of life and cultural influence are consistently ranked so high.
The Jungfrau Region
In 2001, UNESCO recognized the Swiss Alps Jungfrau-Aletsch region for its spectacular landscapes, mountaineering culture, and for its influence on European arts and literature. The Jungfrau Region has been an international tourist destination for 160 years, beginning when train travel advocate Thomas Cook brought a group of 62 English tourists through in 1863.
The region is characterized by spectacular scenery—and by the Swiss engineering and mountaineering skill needed to get up close to it. That includes the highest accessible point in Europe, Jungfraujoch; the Alps’ largest and longest glacier, the 14-mile-long Aletsch Glacier; and the imposing Jungfrau massif that’s made up of the Eiger, Mönch, and Jungfrau mountains that top out at 13,642 feet above sea level. It’s all connected by trains, gondolas, and hiking paths that cross the green meadows and forests (plus, of course, ski trails in winter).
The town of Grindelwald is the ideal base for explorations, given its accessibility by train directly from the Zurich airport and for its rail and sky rides that bring explorers up into the peaks surrounding it. Though its population is 4000 residents, Grindelwald has 8000 hotel rooms in 40 different hotels—38 of which are still family owned.
Jungfraujoch—The Top of Europe
You can reach the Top of Europe, Jungfraujoch—the highest accessible point on the continent—without any need for mountaineering skills, Swiss or otherwise. From Grindelwald, it can take as little as 45 minutes: first a 15-minute gondola ride on the ten-passenger Eiger Express and then a train through two mountains (with a five-minute stop to admire the view from the long tunnel’s carved windows). The top of the Jungfraujoch railway station towers at 11,332 feet above sea level.
Construction of this sky-high rail line began in 1896; Swiss ingenuity and entrepreneurship were essential for successfully creating the 23,960-foot-long tunnel through Eiger and Mönch mountains. The terminal, Jungfraujoch, was finally reached on February 21, 1912 and the first train with tourists made the climb just five months later.
A trip here is all about the ice and snow, even in summer, as the saddle between the snow-capped Mönch and Jungfrau mountains is topped with the Aletsch Glacier’s ten billion tons of ice.
Looking like the lair of a James Bond villain, the building atop the underground train terminal is home to a research station and observatory in addition to places for tourists to enjoy. The best views are from outside on the Sphinx Observation Deck, where you can admire the surrounding summits of the Eiger, Jungfrau and Mönch mountains; the glacier below you; and, in summer, see the green of pastureland beyond the glacier. It’s a marvel that people can be here in the first place, let alone reach it in comfort by gondola and rail.
Other activities at Jungfraujoch include walking through a tunnel of ice carved within the glacier 65 feet below the observation deck. Inside the Ice Palace are two dozen ice sculptures, as well as walls, ceilings, and a (sometimes slippery) floor of ice. Outside, you can make snowballs, and, if you have enough time, hike the snowy summertime trail to Mönchsjochhütte. Hiking trails through summer’s wildflowers are accessible from the lower train station or you can hop on the gondola at Eigergletscher to return to Grindelwald.
More Swiss engineering—and adrenaline—is on offer up another of the cable cars from the center of Grindelwald at Grindelwald-First Top of Adventure.
Prime your nerves beginning with a stroll around First Cliff Walk, with its suspension bridge, metal pathways cantilevered out from the rock, and a viewing platform that hangs 148 feet above the ground below. Presented by Tissot, it’s a free attraction without need for a ticket. The sweeping views are of snowy peaks and rocky mountain faces, glaciers, the Bachläger Waterfall, green pastures, and down to the town of Grindelwald far below. Alpine choughs, a high-altitude species of crow, swoop through the sky as a prelude to your next adventure.
Zipping down Swiss mountains with a surge of adrenaline isn’t reserved for winter’s skis and snowboards. Two different kinds of ziplines are here, open in both winter and summer. Aboard the First Flyer, a sitting-style zipline, you speed down a half-mile steel cable from First to Schreckfeld gondola stations reaching speeds up to 52 miles per hour. Then hop on First Glider, where four people are suspended in hang glider position beneath the wings of an eagle and get a thrill going both up and down the mountain. First you’re pulled backwards up to First station at 45 miles per hour and then, after a brief pause to admire the view, descend back to Schreckfeld at 50 miles per hour.
If you’re done with adrenaline, you can get back to Grindelwald by hiking or by gondola, but it’s much more fun to take a First Mountain Cart from Schreckfeld to Bort station, and then hop on a Trottibike to whoosh from Bort straight into town. The mountain carts are a cross between a go-kart and a sled, with a low center of gravity and three widely-set wheels. They run along an almost-two-mile gravel road, with several spots to pull off the track to admire the views and snap photos. The surprisingly speedy Trottibikes are a smooth-riding alpine scooter with large tires; pick yours up after you drop off your mountain cart.
A more serene way to size up Switzerland
Should you wish to contemplate all the reasons Switzerland was once again named as the best country in the world, Jungfrau’s hiking trails—there are more than 125 miles of them—provide a more peaceful approach. Your heart may race, but it will be from the beauty and the exertion, rather than from any First adrenaline.
Each Jungfrau hike is different, though they all have views of the massive peaks surrounding you. You’ll walk beside the greenest of pasturelands, rolling meadows of wildflowers, glacial streams, and even the occasional waterfall. Sometimes you’ll hear the musical accompaniment of whistling marmots and the bells around the necks of the cows as they graze on the grass they’ll turn into milk for Switzerland’s cheeses and chocolates. Be sure to sample both widely given all the calories you’ll be burning.
Getting to Jungfrau
The best airport for most international travelers who want to visit the Jungfrau Region is Zurich. And, first and business class passengers aboard long haul flights with SWISS International Air Lines from both Geneva and Zurich benefit from the airline’s A SWISS Taste of Switzerland program that began in 2002. For the three-month period beginning in September 2023, those meals are from Michelin-starred L’Atelier Robuchon’s location within Geneva’s new luxury hotel, The Woodward, a member of Oetker Collection.
After landing in Zurich, it’s easy to walk to the airport train station (Zurich Flughafen) within the airport and catch one of Switzerland’s perfectly on-time trains. You’ll then transfer at Interlaken Ost for the last scenic ride up to Grindelwald (some schedules also have transfers at Bern). To save both time and money, buy in advance both train tickets to and from Grindelwald as well as your travel pass for Jungfrau Railways’ trains, funiculars, boats and gondolas.
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